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Teamwork Tuckman Style

When I was growing up, gymnastics and skating were my passions. While I loved my sports, I always regretted never playing on a real team–the closest I got was being one of three sisters. Nowadays, I have two young boys who are completely into team sports–baseball, basketball, and soccer are among their favorites.

Usually, when we arrive at the field or the gym, the energy is palpable. When a team works, it works! But like most kids, my boys have also been on teams that simply never gel. The same happened to our Boston Red Sox last summer. When that happens, nobody wins!

The same is true for teams within organizations and teams of students working together. Whether you’re building a high-performing corporate team or engineering an effective learning environment, your attention to how the team forms and works together can make a huge difference in the groups’ overall success. If we use Bruce Tuckman’s model for small group development, introduced in 1965 and amended 10 years later (that’s when he added “adjourning”), I think we can improve both learning environments and team performance. Following are the characteristics of each stage:


Forming (group comes together)

  • Leader plays a crucial role
  • Individuals roles and responsibilities are unclear as participants start testing the leader and each other

Storming (conflict and polarization)

  • Team members vie for position as they attempt to establish themselves in relation to other team members
  • Clarity of purpose increases but plenty of uncertainties persist
  • Cliques and factions form and there may be power struggles

Norming (cohesiveness develops)

  • Group agrees on shared goals
  • Roles and responsibilities are clear and accepted
  • Big decisions are made by group agreement. Smaller decisions may be delegated to individuals or small teams within group.
  • Commitment and unity is strong
  • Team engages in fun and social activities

Performing (focus on goals)

  • The team is able to work towards achieving the goal.
  • Disagreements occur but now they are resolved within the team positively
  • Roles become flexible and functional, and group energy is channeled into the task.
  • Structural issues have been resolved, and structure can now become supportive of task performance

Adjourning (break up of group)

  • Group completes tasks and reduces dependency on each other
  • Teams feels good about their accomplishments
  • Team experiences the loss of breaking up and moving on

Applying the Model

Tuckman’s model has been widely used and analyzed.  Many have reflected that the stages are neither as distinct from one another or as linear as the model suggests. For trainers and teachers, the most important takeaway is the acknowledgment that whenever we ask groups to work together (even if the task is as simple as “share your insights and report back as a group,”) they will experience the forming-storming-norming-performing stages in some form. We should consider how we can ease the early-stage challenges, so they can quickly reap the benefits of later stages of working together. In light of this model, we might:

  • Facilitate their selection of a “leader”
  • Help them identify goals or challenges
  • Be clear about their purpose and process
  • Encourage the sharing of ideas
  • Maximize the long-term benefit of the relationships they built during the session

Please share your thoughts!

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